Get a Grip, Or I Was Fishing Tenkara Before Tenkara Was Cool

Hard to Ignore

Hard to Ignore

Yvon Chouinard

Yvon Chouinard

There’s a new 800-pound gorilla in the tenkara-room, and it has a name–Patagonia.  As you probably know, Patagonia is a huge and well-respected maker and purveyor of outdoor clothing and gear, founded by Yvon Chouinard, a 60’s counterculture pioneer in climbing, surfing, and mountaineering circles. Probably no one on the planet has more outdoor cred.  Just go on Youtube and watch the documentary “Mountain of Storms” chronicling Chouinard’s epic 1969 journey with a small group of friends, driving the length of the Pan American highway from California to Chile, surfing and skiing along the way, the trip culminating in a very arduous climb of  Cerro Fitzroy in Patagonia.

If you’ve been reading about Yvon Chouinard’s love of tenkara or have watched his video on Youtube or the Patagonia website, you have heard his claim that he has been fishing tenkara for a number of years, having been gifted a “tenkara” rod from Japan by a friend.  What makes his style of tenkara fundamentally different from other tenkara advocates is the use of a fixed- length of traditional western-style flyline attached to the rod tip.  Certainly this is fixed-line, reeless fly fishing, but is it tenkara?  Not having had the opportunity to try this line, I can’t help but wonder how easy it is to keep this line off the water.  It would seem that, when fishing freestone mountain streams with multiple conflicting currents, fishing small pockets of slow water, drag on this type of line would be a real problem, just as it is when fishing conventional western flyrods.  In his instructional video, Chouinard is fishing a wide river where he can achieve long drifts, mend his line, etc.  His advocacy of using wet flies is in keeping with the tenkara spirit of fishing sakasa kebari.

Currently, Patagonia is offering three tenkara rods, an 8’6″ rod, a 10″6″, and an 11″6″.  These can be purchased separately or bundled with Patagonia’s proprietary fly line developed with Cortland.  This level 0.27″ line has a small hard mono core with a PVC coating.  This is supplied in a 35′ length which the user can shorten to his own liking.  A tapered 7.5′, 3X leader is also provided. Kits also include Chouinard’s book “Simple Fly Fishing Techniques for Tenkara and Rod and Reel” and a box of one dozen soft hackle flies.  Total cost: about $280.  One thing that strikes me about Patagonia’s system is the use of a leader attached to the flyline which I suppose one would add tippet.  This makes it a bit more complicated than just adding tippet to the fluorocarbon tenkara line.

Patagonia Tenkara Kit

Patagonia Tenkara Kit

Patagonia is rightfully known for selling quality gear, and this will no doubt apply to their tenkara rods, too.  An excellent warranty is provided.

Chouinard’s endorsement of tenkara presents a dilemma to those who practice more traditional tenkara with monofilament line.  The tenkara-verse is pleased to accept the praise of high profile practitioners like Chouinard or Gierach, lending tenkara a good bit of credibility with the skeptical western fly fishers, but what if they put their own spin on it?

Which, in a roundabout way brings us to rod grip.  While watching Yvon Chouinard’s video demonstrating his tenkara technique, I was struck by how effortlessly he seemed to cast.  His grip is the thumb-on-top variety.

Thumb on Top

Thumb on Top

In the four years or so that I have been practicing tenkara I have almost exclusively used the index finger-on-top grip, choking up a bit on the rod handle.IMG_0563  This has proven reasonably comfortable and effective.  Using the same type of grip but holding the very tip of the rod handle is purported to be perhaps more accurate, although I find it very tiring on my wrist.

Index Finger on Top, Gripping Rod End

Index Finger on Top, Gripping Rod End

On my last outing, I made a point of trying Chouinard’s grip and found it surprisingly comfortable.  I sensed more power behind my cast, and the accuracy of the cast did not seem to suffer appreciably.  For now, it’s my preferred grip.

I’m planning a trip to Denver in a couple of weeks, and I plan to visit the Patagonia store there.  I should have the opportunity to cast their rods, although actually fishing them would be a much better test.

I’ll let you know what I think.



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Island of the Misfit Flies

They Don't Look Like the Centerfold

They Don’t Look Like the Centerfold

Sometimes I like to imagine myself an inconoclast, but probably I’m just contrary.  Mrs. Davis, my eighth grade teacher, summed it up, I think, in a very perceptive way.  Once, she having left the classroom, I removed her gradebook from the top drawer of her desk and, looking under my name, found under the “Comments” heading this entry:  “cannot accept authority.”  This tendency to play devil’s advocate has probably informed my life in many ways.

And so it is with tenkara.  I continue to rebel against the onefly concept of tenkara.  Largely, this is because I am a dedicated dry fly angler, addicted to the trout’s take of a surface fly, sometimes dainty and ballet-like, sometimes explosive, more akin to a mixed martial arts contest.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy subsurface fishing, too, just not to the same degree.  We have to be careful, I think, in our zeal to simplify our angling through tenkara, that we don’t also diminish the richness and variety of our sport, i.e, fly fishing.

When I first began fly tying some fifteen years ago, I especially became enamored of the Catskill dry patterns.  To this day, these to me are THE inconic dry flies, their proportions so elegant.  So buggy.  The problem is I never became truly adept at fashioning the wings on these flies, getting them to stand erect with the proper separation.  Or the hackle would be the “wrong” size for the hook size. So I would discard these into a flybox of rejects, not quite ready for prime time, until I had probably accumulated a hundred of these and other subpar flies.

Then, to tenkara’s credit, the onefly concept reminded me that presentation trumps fly selection in most cases, so I began experimenting with the reject flies, and what I discovered, not surprisingly, was that if the fish were in the mood to “look up,” they would take that old Catskill Adams with the disheveled wings without hesitation.

Adams, escaped from the Island of Misfit Flies

Adams, escaped from the Island of Misfit Flies

Not a reject to me

Not a reject to me

Last week was a prime example.  My wife and I made our first spring trip to the Creek.  Purposely I tied on an Adams, one from the discards, applied some floatant and cast.  It didn’t take the trout long to notice, although the mayfly hatch occurring at that moment consisted of smaller and lighter-colored insects.  Later, a switch to the beetle kebari proved equally effective.  I did swing a sakasa kebari across and downstream, pulsing it now and then, receiving a very satisflying tug or two in return, even bringing a couple fish to hand.

As we moved upstream, we observed a pod of trout holding tight to the stream bottom, occasionally moving to take something in the water column or simply opening their mouths to capture a drifting prey.  No dry fly cast over these fish interested them in the least, and as this was a slow, deep pool, there was no way to get a sakasa kebari-like wet fly down to these trout.  What I did next certainly stretches the boundary of tenkara perhaps, but it worked.  Choosing a buoyant dry fly, a Madame X, as a strike indicator, I attached a heavy beadhead nymph to its hookbend, and to this I attached a bubblegum pink globall.  This rig was cumbersome to cast, but the trout really keyed in on that globall.

So, I continue to define tenkara for myself and am so happy to suddenly have at my disposal another hundred or so flies.


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Tenkara Magazine

Tenkara Magazine

Daniel Galhardo, founder of TenkaraUSA, poses an interesting question on his blog.  How many tenkara anglers  do you estimate there are at present?  Difficult to put a firm number to it, but judging from the publication of the first issue of Tenkara Magazine, the “fad” that is tenkara has reached a certain critical mass.

If you haven’t gotten your copy of the magazine yet from the TenkaraUSA website, I urge you to do so.  Yes, the nine-dollar price tag is a bit steep and may be hard to maintain, but the graphics and production values of this publication are first class.  The matte finish to the pages and photos is very appealing.  The typeset is elegantly simple and easy to read, and the quality of the writing, art, and photography is generally good to excellent.  The articles are a nice mix of tenkara technique, fly tying, history, philosophy, photography and art,  and trip reports.  There is something in Tenkara Magazine for both the novice tenkara (or fly) angler and the more experienced practitioner of the sport.  A few articles deserves special mention.

Jason Klass’ article “Ten Techniques for Tenkara” is a wonderfully concise and understandable primer on presenting the tenkara fly to trout.  The text and accompanying diagrams  complement each other very well.  This article makes a good point, I think:  tenkara may be simple in some respects, but the ability to manipulate the fly in so many ways is a powerful tool for fooling trout.  Personally, I really like being able to arrest the downstream progress of my fly by raising the rod tip until my line is taut and then skittering the fly at likely holding places.

“TENKARA, Me and the Past,” by Gordon M. Wickstrom is a poignant, philolophical essay on one life-long western flyfisher’s transition to tenkara.

“ARTIC GRAYLING, Ultralight Tenkara Backpacking in Utah’s High Country,”  by Rob Worthing, will strike a chord with anyone who hikes, camps, and fishes with a good friend.  As he says in the article, many of us will never have the opportunity to angle for these unique fish, iridescent like the blues and purples of the glaciers from which they sprang eons ago.

In “Tenkara Brothers,” John Vetterei’s point is well taken.  Already our sport is rampant across the social media, but we still need to make an effort to connect physically, on the water, sharing our passion, techniques, and camaraderie.

“From the Heavens to the Peak District,” and “Under the Ruins of Nero’s Villa introduce the reader to a couple of European fishing destinations and remind us that extraordinary mountain streams are to be found the world over.  This is further amplified under the “Destinations”rubric.

Well, I could go one, but I think you now have an inkling of the talented folks who fish, write, photograph, and make art tenkara.

The challenge, as with any publication devoted to a relatively narrow topic, will be to keep the content fresh.  Those of us who read the conventional fly fishing magazines realize how repetitive those have become.  Fortunately, I believe there is a growing number of tenkara fishers with solid writing, photography, or art skills to keep this thing going.  Perhaps offering Tenkara Magazine on an online subscription basis would be more practical and less expensive.

I certainly hope Daniel can keep this effort going.  I am eagerly anticipating the next issue.

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Getting Close?

white fly, sakasa kebari variant

white fly, parachute

Since adopting tenkara (at least in a reeless sense), I have continued largely fishing my old tried-and-true flies, although prior to tenkara I had already pared the number to just a few:  parachute mayflies, elk hair caddis, beetles, ants, and pheasant tail nymphs.  As described in earlier posts, a favorite of mine on my home water is what I call the parachute white fly:  white antron post, white thread body, and the lightest cream hackle I can find.  Recently, though, I have been experimenting with a sakasa kebari-type white fly consisting of just thread and hackle.

Last week one of those rare 60-degree winter days presented itself and it was off to the stream.  As is almost always the case, my wife and I began angling at the boulder pool, where we can almost always be sure of a morning mayfly hatch.  We were not disappointed.  Sunny and forty degrees, mayflies about size 20 were “cooking off” the water’s surface, and the trout had definitely taken notice.  In lieu of the parachute, I attached a #20 white sakasa kebari to five feet of 5X tippet attached to the 12′ line on my Iwana.  I applied floatant just to the hackle so that the body of the fly would remain submerged, emerger style.

I won’t bore you with the particulars, but this proved just as effective as the parachute and can be tied in less than half the time.  So, I’m not a one-fly tenkara angler yet, but I have simplified my flytying and fly selection a bit more.  Maybe I’m getting there…

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Bury Me Beneath the Cedar Tree

"The Sentinel"

Bury me green beneath the cedar tree,

the one that stands sentinel to the stream,

that I might

lie there and see

trout rising to caddis’ awkward flight,

mayflies riding the morning light,

that I might hear

the trout’s guffaw,

and the angler’s curse,

and the crow caw

his avian verse,

until such a time

that I am more earth than flesh.


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I’m Sittin’ Here on the Group W Bench…

Looks Guilty to Me

Warren County Courthouse

1971.  G.T. and I are at his uncle’s place on the Missouri River.  Uncle Ben has a great old white two-story clapboard farmhouse on a hill overlooking the wide, muddy river, tight against the railroad tracks.  Sometimes we fish from a sandbar for Jurassic carp, tossing globs of nightcrawlers on large treble hooks, sunk into the lazy brown flow with golf-ball-sized lead weights, or  G.T. and I walk the tracks with our .22s and plink whatever looks interesting.  This day’s one of those late-summer days:  all sun, cumulus, and cicada-song.  Carefully placing my feet on the ties, I tread the tracks then spy a Pepsi bottle lying empty on the ground.  Tossing it into a dry creekbed, I shatter it with a .22LR.

Just then I sense movement in my peripheral vision.  I look up and see three guys sprinting down the tracks toward us; one has a pistol drawn.  What the hell?  When the trio reaches us, the one who is obviously in charge keeps us under control while the other two run around like pinballs.  Then the accusations, staccato-like, “We saw you shoot at a deer.”

“We didn’t shoot at any deer.”

“Then you shot a rabbit out of season!”

“You’re full of shit, I picked up a soda bottle, tossed it in the creekbed, and shot it,”

“Ahh, littering!  You guys are under arrest, follow us into town to the courthouse.”  The look of satisfaction on his face is palpable.

What we have here, it turns out, are a state conservation agent and two trainees he is trying so hard to impress.  We follow their vehicle in ours.

The Warren county courthouse looks like something from the Deep South, am imposing brick structure, foreboding.  Inside we are led to a small room and asked to enter a plea.  Waiting in the anteroom with us is another young guy, a repeat littering offender, facing a $150 fine and a year in jail. G.T. and I are given a court date and told to be prepared to pay our fine.

When we return I am asked how I plead, “Not guilty!” I reply.

“Then you must post a $500 bail and return for trial.”

Mmmm, this is getting interesting.  I don’t know much about the law, and five hundred dollars is probably more money than my parents and I together have in the bank.  Sheepishly, I ask, “Can a change my plea to ‘guilty’?”  Technically I did toss the soda bottle in the creek.

“Twenty-five dollars and $12.50 court costs, check made payable to the sheriff (is this standard procedure?)  With  payment of the fine made, the judge turns his attention to G.T.  He pleads “not guilty, and, let’s face it, he is not guilty, never having touched the litter-object in question.  He posts bail and we leave.

G.T. hires a lawyer and over the next year or so he and I make a couple trips to that courthouse, giving testimony, being grilled like we’ve stolen the Mona Lisa.  The judge sits elevated on his bench, like an altar in the temple of justice, bees buzzing through the open windows. Finally, with the passage of time, the conservation agents’ memories of the event have become so tenuous and contradictory that the judge, weary of the whole thing, finally dismisses the charges against G.T.  A victory, although pyrrhic perhaps.  G.T. feels vindicated but $600 poorer in attorney fees.


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A Cautionary Tale


The Stuff of Nightmares

It’s difficult to admit, but several years ago I almost had to declare bankruptcy.  What precipitated this embarassment?  Stock market?  Loss of Job?  Gambling addiction?  No, it was fly tying.  Yes, FLY TYING.  This sad tale begins a decade or so ago, after having discarded my spinning gear in favor of a flyrod.  Sensing my passion (obsession) for my new sport, a friend suggested I learn to tie my own flies.  I really didn’t think I had the manual dexterity to tie good flies, and as it turned out I didn’t.  But when my friend gifted me an Orvis beginner’s flytying kit, I felt obligated to try.  After creating a few wooly buggers and gold-ribbed hare’s ears with the material provided in the kit and after having found a few trout apparently brain-damaged and willing to sample them, I was the one who became hooked.

Soon I found myself subscribing to  American Angler, Fly Fisherman, The Drake, Flyfish and Tying Journal, Flytier, and others.  Had to get a larger mailbox.  I began to study the fly patterns in these publications with the intensity of a classics scholar deciphering a newly discovered ancient Greek text.  From each magazine I tore out pages of fly patterns and created files.  Soon my flytying space began to resemble what you see on that hoarders cable show.  Then there were the flytying books.  The best of the best:  Dave Hughes’ Essential Trout Flies.  So concise.  Such appealing photos  Great fly recipes and fishing tips.  I found myself reading this book over and over with the scrutiny of a twelve-year-old studying a Playboy purloined from his dad’s sock drawer (before the internet, of course).  And don’t forget the videos.

Busted Looking at Flytying Porn

Time to put this knowledge to work.  So began the trips to my local fly shops.  So much to buy.  Hooks:  dry fly, caddis, nymph, streamer, hopper, jighead, in every size from Titanic anchor to microscopic.  Feathers:  rooster, hen, pheasant, partridge, peacock, marabou, ostrich, and others, in all available sizes and colors.  Furs:  elk, deer, moose, beaver, bucktail.  Threads, tinsels, lead wire, copper wire, silver wire.  Next yarns.  Then beads in copper, silver, and brass, again all sizes.  Who knows what else that I am forgetting.  Soon all my spare time was consumed by flytying and accumulating a flyshop’s worth of finished product.  I began to take my vise to the office and tie during downtime.  I stopped shaving and bathing.  My wife threatened to leave this stranger who had moved into our house, displacing the husband she once knew.  I believe she had begun commitment proceedings.

Then, thankfully, tenkara.  Studying the tenkara-scripture, I learned that the fly was not the essential in catching trout, but rather the presentation of the fly.  Of course, I already knew this deep down, but I needed to be reminded.  Now all I required were thread, a feather, and a hook.  I began to analyze what seemed to work consistently on my local stream.   I divested myself of the notion that I needed duns, emergers, spinners, etc., in five sizes and colors, and began to fish almost exclusively Deer Hair Caddis, a Pale Morning Dun parachute, and a couple terrestrial patterns in the warmer months.  Amazingly I continued to catch trout.  Perhaps one day I’ll get to the point I’m fishing just a sakasa kebari, but for now I’m content with what I’m doing.

I hope this story can help another angler avoid a similar fate.  If you want to start tying flies, at least in the beginning stay with the tried-and-true, and perhaps you can avoid adding a room to your house to store your flytying materials.

Got to go.  I need to put some ostrich herl on Craigslist.


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But I Feel So Dirty…

The Lake


G.T. and I have been bass fishing of late, and I got the itch to visit a lake I had first fished with Dad when I was nine (that’s 55 years now!).  Memories are a time machine, a conduit to an ealier self.  Each summer during my childhood and adolescence included several trips to this 220+ acre state conservation lake.  In those days, the forested campground would be a virtual tent city, peopled by refugees from urban insanities. Canvas cabin tents supported by aluminum tent poles (Dad, in best army fashion, always trenched ours against the threat of rain), moms cooking on the Coleman or over a fire, kids riding  bikes, and dads fishing the lake.  A ten-horse limit on motors assured relative peace and quiet on the water. Glorious days and nights on the lake, especially that night that my beautiful wife and I, young marrieds, not yet encumbered by the joys and responsibilities of parenthood, watched, spellbound, the Perseid meteor shower reflected in the still, black water, our boat tied to a submerged stump,  the starry sky in this remote area so infinite that I felt vertiginous, like I was loosed from gravity’s grip, falling up  and up. Then there was the time that Dad and his father returned to our campsite from fishing, a bass plug dangling from the lobe of Grandpa’s right ear like an oversized earring.  Seems Dad caught him on a cast.  A quick snip of the hook’s point and problem solved.  Good populations of bass, crappie, catfish, and redear sunfish kept the angling interesting and varied.  But, alas, as the lake entered its middle age, a newer, larger competitor arose, and the lake’s slow, steady decline began.  Over the ensuing couple decades, the number of anglers visiting the lake waned.  In fact, it got to the point if I arrived on a weekday, I might sometimes be the only fisherman on the lake.

When I arrived at G.T.’s house early on Sunday morning, his gear stood anxious on the curb.  Loading quickly, then fueling at McDonald’s, we shortened the two-hour drive with pleasant conversation.  I was curious what we would find at the lake, since it had been six or more years since I had visited, and I knew from reading online that the campground from my youth had been closed due to disuse and vandalism.  But another campground had been developed on the other side of the lake.

G.T. and I arrived about ten in the morning on a bluebird clear autumn day, pleasantly cool with a high in the upper 60s predicted.  The newly renovated campground was a jewel, a grassy expanse interspersed with sparse treecover, each site with a new picnic table, firepit, and lanternpole.  And no charge for camping!


I was surprised to find four other campsites occupied–not exactly a crowd, but were not alone.  Quickly we erected the popup and prepared to fish.

Regulations now prohibit using one’s own boat and permit only electric motors.  Fortunately, very serviceable flat-bottomed boats are provided (again free of charge).  Due to the size of the lake, keeping a good charge on the battery is essential to avoid a long row back to shore, invariably it seems with the prairie wind in your face..  We chose a boat, loaded the equipment and the trolling motor and battery, and headed for the nearest cove, the lake’s waves slapping pleasantly against the boat’s hull.  The lake’s shore is almost completely forested, and the trees were resplendent with the subdued palette of late fall.  I attached a bluegill popper to my tenkara rod, and  G.T. chose a Slider plastic jig for his spinning rod, and we began casting to shore.  It didn’t take long for some large bluegill to discover the popper, their tugging so out of proportion to their size.

The Lake in a Pensive Mood

Couldn't Resist the Popper

Couldn't Resist the Magic Jig

I was having a lot of fun with my tenkara/popper rig, but I noticed G.T. catching a couple small bass on his spinning rod and Slider jig.  Good for him, that is until he kept it up, and I had yet to hook a bass.  Soon I was enumerating in my mind all G.T.’s shortcomings, as we are prone to do when someone else is catching fish and we are not.  Then I saw it–a spare spinning rod that G.T. had brought along, laying in the bottom of the boat.  Hmmm, this presented a dilemma.  Could I, the tenkara ambassador, compromise my principles by using a spinning rod?  Hell, yes!, if it means catching some bass.  Faster than you can say sakasa kebari, I had one of those magic jigs tied to his rod and was soon hauling in some largemouth myself.  What a blast!

G.T. Resting His Casting Arm

Success with the bass continued for sometime.  When I was a bit sated, I tied a marabou jig onto the tenkara rod and hooked a nice crappie, feeling a bit more vindicated.  Soon the daylight began to flee the dusk, and G.T. and I motored back to the campground for dinner:  smoked ribs, fire-roasted vegetables, and beer. Then a  campfire, a great catalyst for quiet conversation and silent contemplation.  A half moon ascended the clear night sky, bright enough to cast tree shadows.


Fire: Link to a Primordial Self

Like the embers of the fire, eventually our conversation ebbed, and we retired to the camper.  With no electricity at this campground and lows forecast for the 30s, G.T. and I readied our beds for a cold night.  G.T. had his new Coleman 20 degree bag and I loaned him a blanket also; I employed two sleeping bags, a sleeping bag liner, and a blanket.  I slept like a baby in the  womb.  “Howdya sleep?” I queried G.T.  “Froze my ass off!” the reply.  (He returned the bag to Cabela’s as soon as we got home).  I got the coffee perking, fried bacon and eggs, and soon the cold night was forgotten and we were headed out on the lake again.  A fantastic sunrise greeted us.

Can't Imagine a Prettier Dawn

Another great morning of fishing, joking, and savoring the cool autumn air.  Then time to pack up and go.  I couldn’t resist the temptation to check out the old, now closed, campground.  What I found saddened me a bit, for Nature was well along in the process of reclaiming it, the old roads now just discernible.  Of course, the only constant is change.

I need to take my Iwana to Spring Creek again and catch some trout.


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Spearfish Creek

Surveying His Kingdom


First a digression:  My wife and I just returned from a roadtrip to South Dakota, to the Badlands and the Black Hills.  Having spent a good bit of time fishing, hiking, and camping in the Rocky Mountains, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the Black Hills.  But I wasn’t.  They’re beautiful (at least to this flatlander).  Forests of Ponderosa pine, aspen, paper birch, and cottonwood.  High grassland meadows not unlike the “parks” of Colorado.  Although the highest peak in the Black Hills soars to a modest 7,000+ feet, I felt like I was in Rocky Mountain National Park sans the high, snowladen peaks.  Custer State Park is the jewel of this region with 73,000 acres, a 1,300-strong bison herd, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, deer, and other fauna. Like Yellowstone without the geothermal features.  With four lodges scattered inside the park and several campgrounds, the amenities at Custer rival, and exceed, those of many national parks.

Watch Your Step!--Bison Country


Our "Camping" Cabin, Custer State Park


Echos of Time

Fishing within Custer state park is, however, mediocre at best.  Four lakes provide some fun angling for stocker rainbows.  French Creek looks like a real mountain trout stream, but like the guy in the Crying Game who romances the beautiful woman only to discover “she” is a guy,  the creek reveals itself as a chub creek, apparently the trout population having been decimated by drought over the last few years.

French "Chub" Creek


Grace Coolidge Creek exits Center Lake (itself stocked with rainbows and brookies, and there are a couple of miles of fishable stream below the lake.  My wife and I snagged a couple small browns.  Nothing to write home about.  I did, however, meet a very nice fellow, a local, on the stream who was getting acquainted with his new TenkaraUSA rod.  He informed me that the fishing guides in the Rapid City area “crazy” for tenkara.  It seems that especially with novice clients, tenkara gets them on fish faster and tips are larger.  Take that, Lefty!

Grace Coolidge Creek

Four lakes within the park offer angling for a variety of species.  Stockade lake contains bass, crappie, pike, and panfish.  Trout can be found in Center and Sylvan lakes.  Trout and bass swim the waters of Legion lake.  Sylvan lake lies at the northern terminus of the scenic Needles Highway.  Having only packed my Iwana, I hadn’t really planned to do any lake fishing.  But when I spied numerous rise rings erupting on Sylvan’s surface, I knew I had to try.  In order to try to reach the cruising trout, I added about ten feet of tippet to my twelve foot level line and attached a #16 Elk Hair Caddis.  Before long I was connected to several rainbows, ranging from eight to fourteen inches.  What fun!  Inexplicably, the park ranger who stopped to watch us and chat said she had never seen anyone fishing there with flyrods before!  Many people hiking the beautiful lake’s perimeter stopped to inquire about my tenkara gear.  Think I made a few converts that day.  Enthralled, I watched another angler, an osprey who swooped to the lake’s surface and flew away, clutching a trout.

Needles Highway

Sylvan Lake

As much as I was enjoying my time at Custer State Park, I was anxious to pursue the wild ‘bows and browns of Spearfish Creek.  Speakfish Creek descends through scenic Spearfish Canyon, for approximately twenty miles along highway 14A, a paved, winding road connecting Cheyenne Crossing at its south end and the town of Spearfish at its north.  The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway snakes through thick forests and towering limestone cliffs.  Hiking opportunities abound, and two attractive wateralls are easily accessible, Bridal Veil Falls and Roughlock Falls.  Did I mention the fishing?  For most of the canyon Spearfish Creek paralles 14A with numerous pullouts providing easy access to the stream on public land.  Most of Spearfish Creek is a moderate gradient freestone stream with tons of appealing pocket water but assumes a meandering meadow persona along the trail to Roughlock Falls.  Self-sustaining populations of browns and rainbows call Spearfish Creek home.  No stocking of trout has occurred here since the 1970s.  Although wild, I found the Spearfish trout quite willing to rise to a #16 Elk Hair Caddis, if presented with a modicum of care.

Spearfish Creek Brown

Afternoon Comes Early to the Canyon

Meadow Section

Spearfish Creek

Due to time constraints, I did not fish Rapid Creek, another scenic Black Hills wild trout stream…but I will.  Tenkara and the Black Hills.  A perfect match.

















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Sometimes I Get Distracted…

Why I fish:

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